Laxmi Jadhav is BEST’s first woman driver, and has also been behind the wheel of a BMW
Laxmi Jadhav gets off a bus, freshens up with a breakfast and chat session and climbs into the driver*s seat of another BEST bus. Her hair is tied up neatly; lipstick, nail paint, and a bindi with rhinestones - all red like her vehicle - are in place. She*s certainly not the burly, surly man you expect. The 41-year-old is the first female driver employed by the nearly 100-year-old Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) service.
At 9.30 am, Jadhav*s shift starts from Dharavi bus depot. She*s in her khaki uniform right from home. She*s been up since 5 am, finishing household chores in her home in Mulund. Nearly 30 rotis have been rolled out for her family of five - two sons (18 and 20), a husband and mother-in-law. Her eldest son is pursuing engineering, while the younger one studies commerce.
Jadhav is not only the first female BEST driver, but also the first woman auto driver in the city to get a licence in 2016. As soon as she passed the test, the first thing she did was teach around 25 girls that year to drive an auto, and get their licences. Jadhav still rides it ever day to the bus stop from where she gets into a bus for the depot.
"I used to drive an auto; but my dream was to be a BEST driver," she says. "But I didn*t think that I would be this famous." We catch up with her at the Colaba Electric House depot. She*s half-way through the two rounds she makes every day from Dharavi to Colaba. That day, however, she made only one round.
Jadhav had to undergo two-and-a-half months of rigorous training at Dindoshi bus depot, before she could get a driving licence for heavy vehicles in 2019. She was tested by various depot managers, and for the final exam, the managers of all major depots rode as passengers while she drove through different parts of the city. Finally, June 12 marked her first day as a BEST driver. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was supposed to inaugurate her maiden trip, but that was cancelled. She is yet to receive clarity as she is not a full time-employee with the BEST, but has been hired by a private company called Mateshwari Urban Transport Solutions.
Such is her dedication to BEST for teaching her to drive and giving her the opportunity, she refused a job offer from a company as a bus driver at twice the salary. "We have women who are pilots, drive trains, autos, cars but not BEST. But now I have accomplished that," she says jubilantly.
This writer grabbed a seat on her Route 11 from Colaba to Government Colony in Bandra East. Jadhav had partnered with a female bus conductor, Manisha Munde. It is evident that they both work very well together. Jadhav took about two hours to complete the route, and but for the slight trouble she had while making a âU* turn within the depot, everything went smoothly. The same cannot be said for those in traffic and some of the passengers. Jadhav honked a lot to keep mischievous bikers, pedestrians and cars away, as they tested her mettle. Two policemen also boarded the bus and asked her to stop mid-route, so they could alight. Jadhav refused, and they sniggered about her being a female driver.
She calmly takes it in her stride. "Most people say encouraging words as they alight," she says. "When I stop at a signal, women tell me that they are scared to even drive a scooty, let alone a bus. Some people taunt me, but many of them praise my driving, click selfies, and take videos with me."
The one thing she misses is music; her auto is fitted with a sound system. But she makes up by humming as she drives the bus. "I really like to dance as well," she confides. "In school, I was at the top in kabaddi, kho-kho, and cultural functions. If someone asks me to act, I can do that too," she says.
As we brake for lunch at Dharavi depot, her popularity is obvious. She seems to know everyone, and they all greet her like an old friend. "It*s difficult to manage household chores and work, but this is my dream. I have spent a lot of money in training and worked hard to reach here," she said. Her family is supportive, as long as she is able to manage her household chores. Though "my sons tell me to wear a T-shirt or kurta instead of my uniform all the time, but I don*t get the time to change," she says.
As we go with her to Bhandup, where she has parked her auto, she tells us about her driving genes. Her father, brother and uncles are chauffeurs, as is her husband. With a little help from her brother, she has driven luxury cars including Mercedes and BMW. Weary, she catches a quick nap on the way home with the writer sitting beside her - it is the only shut-eye she gets through the day.
We took another BEST bus from Sion depot to the spot where she had parked the auto. She quickly gives it a wipe before picking up a passenger on her way home. "I love the auto because it gives me my bread and butter," she says. "But I learn a lot on the bus - about the world, people, how things work. I had not seen several parts of Mumbai like Mahalaxmi, Mantralaya, Churchgate, but now I get to see all of that," says Jadhav, who was raised in Satara, where she completed Standard X, and came to Mumbai in 2000 after she was married.
Once home, she has time till 9 pm to freshen up, make dinner and complete any errands before she goes back to her auto driving duty.